As an English test provider, Duolingo has a direct role to play in enabling international students to take up offers to study at international universities. As a tech company, we’re uniquely able to respond quickly to situations when our stakeholders in international education may need extra support. We put this to the test with our recent response to a mounting issue in UK higher education, working quickly to put something in place that will help the sector through a particularly challenging admission cycle.

For many UK institutions, this is a time of uncertainty

For UK-bound students, the summer is typically a period where, having sat their final exams, they switch their focus from their academic studies and focus on how to evidence their English proficiency. This summer, pressure is even more intense, as uncertainty surrounding post-graduation employment rights has pushed international students to make decisions on where they want to study much later than usual. 

Our Senior Leadership Team regularly meets with sector bodies and universities, to stay apprised of trends in international admissions and enrollment. A big takeaway from our most recent meeting with stakeholders in the UK was the pressure on international student conversion this year, and in particular, late conversion. 

Due to uncertainty over  government policy for graduates, students still keen on the UK waited until they knew their post-study work entitlements to help inform their decision on their final study destination. This puts particular pressure on university admissions offices and immigration officials to process both study and visa applications in time for students to enroll in time for the September intake. Recent UK Home Office figures show that student visa applications had dropped by just over a quarter in the last two years–a record low since the pandemic. 

In December 2023, the UK government announced its intent to ask the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the UK’s Graduate Route two year post study work visa, fearing widespread abuse of the system and that it was not working in favor of UK interests. This followed a number of increasingly restrictive policy signals that the marketplace had picked up on. Uncertain about their chances to secure post-study work rights, many students held back from coming to the UK. With the MAC report finding no widespread evidence of abuse, the Government has decided to keep the Graduate Route and our university partners are waiting to understand how many students have remained intent on study in the UK, or whether they have chosen other study destinations.

This is an uncertain time for many institutions, and we want to do what we can to help them navigate that uncertainty. Often, English results are the last substantive 'academic' requirement that students need to meet ahead of paying deposits and finalizing their arrangements. It’s also a requirement where students might not know how they’ll do, which brings uncertainty. Students won’t want to move ahead with paying deposit payments if they don’t know what their English score will be. In light of the unique challenges of this year's cycle, we've been exploring ways in which the Duolingo English Test can support UK universities in converting international applicants this summer. 

Test providers can help institutions navigate this uncertainty! 

The DET is uniquely placed to help deliver a fast, efficient and secure recruitment process this summer. After speaking with partners, we’ve developed a 2024 Summer Conversion Campaign: For the months of July, August, and September, we will offer fast-tracked test results to all DET-accepting UK universities, at no extra cost, in 24 hours—significantly faster than any other test provider. 

Processing results in 24 hours at no extra cost to the institution or student will ensure people are not timed out by a need to wait for weeks while they book and travel to a test center, or wait to get their results. Institutions that take up the offer will be given unique URL referral links to get the process done twice as quickly as its usual fastest turnaround time of 48 hours. The tests will go through the same full battery of proctoring and quality assurance processes - but given the special circumstances this summer, UK-bound students will be fast tracked to the front of the queue.

The campaign is now live, and will remain active until the end of September, and we sincerely hope this will help ease some of the stress that students and institutions are experiencing. We look forward to seeing the benefits of this initiative and will continue to listen carefully to the needs of our university stakeholders and work with them to seek solutions to help more students access higher education!